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Water Softener vs. Water Descaler: Which is the Best Solution?

The conversation about whether to choose a water softener vs. water descaler starts when you reach your tolerance limits regarding hard water and limescale deposits on your pipes, fixtures, kitchenware, and appliances. However, looking for a solution is not an easy feat.

Water Softener vs. Water Descaler: What They Can Do

Both water softeners and water descalers aim to solve the problem of hard water and dangerous scale deposits from your home. Nevertheless, they use different technologies and lead to different results. Today, we will discuss their features and capabilities so that you can make an educated choice.

Water Softener vs. Water Descaler: The Technology

water softener

We already offered a guide on how a water descaler works versus how a water softener works. Here is the short version:

  • Water softeners use a chemical process to remove the hard water minerals from your water by replacing them with sodium chloride. The water softener also flushes down the drain any excess minerals and brine.
  • Water descalers use a physical process based on electrical currents that change the structure of the hardness minerals in the water. They do not remove them; they change the way they behave, rendering them non-adhesive to any surface. The water descaler does not flush any minerals away since it does not eliminate them.

Now that we saw how these two different devices work, it is time to summarize the similarities and differences between water softeners and water descalers by pinpointing their advantages and shortcomings. Both types of devices address the issue of hard water and limescale, but each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Traditional Water Softeners: Strengths and Limitations

Traditional water softeners, based on sodium chloride replacement, are easy to find in home improvement stores and from online retailers. They work very well, offering water a “slippery” feel, and helping you achieve more abundant soap lather. While expensive, they do have decent rates of return, as they can last for years with the proper maintenance.

Nevertheless, they come with some drawbacks you need to consider:

  • They need professional installation;
  • Some are large enough to generate the problem of installation space;
  • They come with maintenance costs: you need to buy bags of salt pellets to keep the softening beads working and the ion exchange process going;
  • Besides this ongoing maintenance (and quite expensive) task, water softeners also waste plenty of water, as the system flushes away the excess minerals. In other words, they are not the eco-friendliest way to keep your water feel good against your skin;
  • Some health experts advise against drinking softened water. Due to its high deposits of sodium or potassium, such water does not go great with high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, particular diets, medication, and so on.
  • Veterinarians also firmly advise against giving salty water to drink to your house pets.
  • Traditional water softeners can punch quite a big hole in your pocket.
  • Since they also strip your water of healthy minerals like calcium and magnesium, water softeners make the water dull and inefficient from a nutritional point of view.

When Do You Need a Traditional Water Softener?

A water softener indeed removes the hardness minerals in your water, leaving you with the feeling of immaculate skin, no limescale deposits around, better soap lather, and brighter colored clothes coming out of the washing machine. Let’s learn, however, if you need a water softener for your home or business.

Get a water softener if:

  • The water hardness level in your area is above 25 – 30 GPG. As we already learned from our guide on water hardness, such levels translate into exceptionally incredibly hard water. Though rare, such situations can occur.
  • You are willing to spend time, effort, and money with the water softener’s maintenance to get slick, “slippery” water, extra lathery soap, and reduced scale buildup on your surfaces and inside your pipes and appliances.
  • You have no issues with the consumption of salt in your water or with its flushing away.

The Water Softeners’ Ban – An Issue to Consider

If you live in some parts of California, chances are you cannot install a traditional water softener, so you should opt for a water descaler instead. As of 2014, the governing board banned the use of water softeners that use sodium or potassium and discharge the brine into the sewer lines. Michigan, Connecticut, Texas, and Massachusetts also enforced regulations and prohibitions so that the salt solutions from water softeners do not reach sewer lines. Similar environment protection rules are also under scrutiny in the European Union.

Water Descalers: Benefits and Limits

As we said, water descalers work in a simpler, more straightforward manner. As installation goes, you need an outlet and minimal technical skills to set them. But let’s see more about these devices.

Water Descalers’ Advantages

  • More affordable than classic water softeners;
  • Easier to install than salt-based water softeners;
  • If you want to treat the water for a business (restaurant, café, hotel, medical clinic, etc.), the installation and maintenance costs will be more bearable in the long run;
  • They are small and versatile when it comes to placement (on the wall, under the sink, etc.);
  • Water descalers do not strip your water of essential and healthy minerals for your diet;
  • They help with the brightening and softness of your clothes to some extent;
  • They do not change the TDS levels in your water;
  • They prevent water hardness molecules from ever adhering to heating elements, pipes, faucets, kitchen and bathroom fixtures, surfaces, and so on;
  • They remove the already existing scale on the inside of your pipes and appliances;
  • Descalers need little to no maintenance over time since you do not have to replace or add elements/consumables to them;
  • They do not waste water and do not flush chemicals in the sewer lines, so they are the eco-friendlier option to consider;
  • They work with almost all types of pipes, including PVC ones;
  • One unit is enough for a small home;
  • They do not add salt to your water, eliminating any excess salt-based risk for people and animals.

Water Descaler Limitations

First things first, they are harder to find. At least yet. Since the technology is new and manufacturers still improve on their performances, electronic water descalers are available more often via dedicated manufacturers’ online stores.

  • They do not offer that “slick” water feeling against your skin;
  • If you use water descalers, you may still see some spots on your glasses, kitchenware, or bathtubs. The main advantage is that you won’t have to scrub them anymore, as they will go away smoothly.

When Do You Need a Water Descaler?

A water descaler extends the lifespan of your pipes and appliances at an affordable price. They also help you put some money on the side.

Here are the situations when you might want to consider getting a water descaler instead of a water softener:

  • The water hardness level in your zone is up to 25 GPG. In other words, water descalers do manage to deal with even extremely hard water;
  • You want to spend less money with the purchase, installation, and maintenance of your water treatment system;
  • You are environmentally aware and wish to conserve water in your home. If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, then the water descaler is the better option as it does not flush away water or minerals;
  • Your main concern is the lifespan and functionality of your pipework and appliances and less the aesthetics;
  • You do not particularly like the “slippery” feel of water against your skin.

Water Softener vs. Water Descaler: What They Cannot Do

We have seen each product’s strengths and weaknesses, but we have to make an important point: they both work best in the company of a water filtration system, be it carbon-based or relying on reverse osmosis technology.

  • Neither water descalers nor water softeners filter your water and treat it against impurities. If you worry about harsh chemicals, heavy metals, bacteria, viruses, other water pollutants, and contaminants, you should get a water filter as well. They cannot make your water potable.

So What Should You Pick for Your Home or Business?

Now that you saw the significant similarities and differences between water softeners and water descalers, the choice is yours. It all depends on your needs, your sustainability inclinations, and the money you are willing to spend on maintenance.

If you want an eco-friendly, affordable, low-maintenance, and easy-to-use device to treat hard water and prolong the lifespan of your appliances, then yes, you should go for a water descaler. If the hardness level of the water severely interferes with your life, health, business, and budget, then you should consider a traditional water softener – provided you comply with your local laws and regulations.

Bottom Line

We hope this water softener vs. water descaler guide helps you make an informed and practical choice from now on. Now, it is your turn to share with us some of your experiences. Did you ever use softened or conditioned water before? How did you feel about such experience? What is your opinion on water softeners and descalers? Did they work as you hoped?